Media & Entertainment

How “The X-Files” Shaped Online Fandom Culture As We Know It

x-files

In 1993, the first episode of “The X-Files” aired on Fox. The show was about two FBI agents (Fox Mulder and Dana Scully) who investigated unsolved, paranormal crimes; ranging from alien abductions to invisible men.  Although it wasn’t hugely expected of a show with themes like these to get popular; audiences really connected with it and shortly enough, combined with the early rise of the internet, a new group of people that deeply appreciated the show emerged: the online fandom. “The X-Files” deserves a lot of credit for its part in the formation of the first online fandoms, as well as a lot of other things it brought to “fandom culture.”

Fandoms, Then and Now

In the 90s, the social media sites we have used in the 2000s and still use today for “fandom” purposes, “Tumblr” being the most popular one, obviously did not exist yet. This isn’t to say “fandoms” didn’t exist though. In fact, it is generally supposed that the birth of fandoms dates back to as early as the early 20th century with the Sherlock Holmes craze that led to fans sending newsletters addressed to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Star Trek fandom in the 1960s also had similar newsletter and magazine mailing systems. However, the internet hadn’t been widely available to the general public until the 90s, so the “online fandom” culture as we know it now was mostly developed by fans of media content like The X-Files, Star Wars and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. 

It is nowadays very common for fans of any personality/media content to give themselves special, identifying names as well as create unique terms and languages that only they can understand, and The X-Files probably had an effect on how this came to be. 

At the very beginning of the formation of the fandom, The X-Files fans, also called X-Philes, started communicating in online chatrooms. Alt.tv.xfiles was one of the first fan forums where dedicated fans of the show would frequently share their theories for upcoming episodes, love for the characters and the actors as well as frustrations for the writers. One fan who lived through those days describes the fans as having their own special acronyms related to the show such as “CC” for Chris Carter (creator of the show) or “FTF” for “Fight the Future”, which was the first X-Files movie. It is nowadays very common for fans of any personality/media content to give themselves special, identifying names as well as create unique terms and languages that only they can understand, and The X-Files probably had an effect on how this came to be. 

The “Shippers”

Along with the abbreviations, The X-Files also introduced a very important word to fandom lexicon: “shipping.” Shipping in its simplest refers to wanting two characters or people to be involved romantically, or enjoying the relationship if they already are together. “Ships” and “shippers” exist in almost every fandom today, with some of the most popular ships being “Gallavich” (Ian Gallagher and Mickey Milkovich from “Shameless”), “Supercorp” (Kara Danvers and Lena Luthor, from “Supergirl”) and “Reylo” (Rey and Kylo Ren from “Star Wars”).

Apparently, the word has its origins in The X-Files fandom. Back when the show was first airing, a good portion of the fans wanted the main characters to be in love, even though the show didn’t really give the fans a lot of the content they wanted in that regard. These fans that wanted Mulder and Scully to be in a relationship were, appropriately, called the “relationshippers” while those who believed the two to be strictly platonic work partners were called “noromos.” The term “relationshippers “ was shortened to “shippers” over time, which is now an incredibly integral part of fandom culture.

Fanfiction

The love for the potential couple also helped develop the enormous popularity of fanfiction in The X-Files fandom. Back then, all-encompassing fanfiction sites that host hundreds of fandoms at once didn’t really exist. Instead, fans of the show would create websites specifically for themselves to share the fanfiction they write with their fellow fans, as well as sign up on email exchanges for fanfiction!

It’s important to note that fanfiction, like the concept of fandoms itself, also dates back much earlier than most of us probably think; however, the impact of The X-Files and some other franchises such as Star Trek, Star Wars and Harry Potter cannot be overlooked especially when looking at fanfiction online since these are mostly associated with the migration of fanfiction from traditional means to the internet and the popularization of it.

The X-Files fandom generated huge amounts of fanfiction, including those that focused on the relationship between Mulder and Scully, and “casefiles”, where fans would write their own monster stories similar to the cases the agents dealt with on the show. Some of these would even be as long as actual books! Today, many of those websites are still up and running, or archived on newer sites, hosting thousands of pieces of X-Files fanfiction for many more to discover.

Still Going Strong!

Perhaps the most interesting part of this all is that the X-Files fandom is still going strong! Although The X-Files is not as popular as it was 25 years ago, there are some old fans that have stayed loyal to the show and even moved from website to website as the fandom digitally relocated. Add this with the younger generation that was introduced to the X-Files through the reboot a few years back and now, the fandom offers something not a lot of the others do — a fusion of the old and the new, where creators that have been there for over 2 decades get to share their love for the show and their content with those who are new to the fandom. In exchange, they get to experience a new perspective on something they’ve loved for so long which I can only assume must be delightful!

 

Cover: Marcin Wichary

Edited by: Yili Char

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